At about this time of year there are a few teams I haven’t checked in on properly.
This week’s Notebook is all about rectifying that and taking a temperature check of three teams in particular:
– Gold Coast: Their style and a forced change
– GWS: Their progress under Adam Kingsley
– Sydney: How to assess their first six weeks
Note: Fremantle and St Kilda have full-length posts coming soon (the latter hopefully this week!) which is why they’re not included in here.
Thankfully this’ll (probably) be the last week where the Notebook schedule is a little all over the place.
Usually the Notebook will be on Monday, and always available first in the morning for those on the $5 and $10 Patreon tiers before it’s public for all on Monday night.
If you’ve missed the Patreon features for subscribers, you can find them all here.
There are a handful of new features to enjoy, plus a refresh of some favourites, and simplified tiers. Here’s the link to the Patreon page.
Regardless of the weekend’s result against North Melbourne, a pre-season watch point in my Rolling Notes“>Rolling Notes section (exclusive for $10 Patreon subscribers) was whether the Suns’ unique style would hold for a second straight season.
They invest much more than other teams around contest and largely eschew uncontested ball (again, except for last weekend). With the luxury of a full season and summer to plan, opponents have come up with a counter for it, looking to simply break even around contests and then punish Gold Coast on the outside, where space is afforded to them.
The Suns’ defending after turnovers – i.e. where teams tend to find the most space – has slipped from mid table in 2022 to bottom four so far in 2023.
Then with teams neutralising the Suns’ strengths around contests, they haven’t been able to gain the same territory as in 2022. Last year they ranked seventh in inside 50 differential (+98 through the home and away season), while this year through six rounds they rank 15th (-39).
Long story short: Gold Coast need to take the next step in their evolution. Coincidentally, the choice may have been forced on them with Touk Miller’s meniscus tear.
To be crystal clear, this doesn’t imply the Suns will be better without Miller. What it does mean is their setup around the ball has to change.
Miller’s role can’t be replaced through a simple like-for-like swap. In Stuart Dew’s time as coach, Miller has missed just five of 110 games, and only one of the last 75. This is completely new territory for the Suns, missing their heartbeat for an extended period.
More numbers must go through the on-ball rotations. No longer do Gold Coast have the luxury of allowing Miller, Rowell, and Anderson to take most of their minutes. Maybe it’s extra time for Swallow and Fiorini, perhaps they dust off some of their highly rated youngsters and expose them to grunt time. Either way, a move has been forced onto Gold Coast and it’ll be fascinating to see their reaction.
One of the new features on here in 2023 is the ability to create your own positional depth chart for every club.
It’s available for those on the $5 and $10 tiers, and hopefully everyone finds the tool as useful as I do.
It’s a shame Sam Taylor’s hamstring injury – more on him coming in this week’s Fortnightly Focus – and the subsequent reshuffle will alter the Giants’ setup. They’d started to make progress on their style in the last fortnight, showing more flashes than the first month.
Offensively they managed eight goals from defensive half against Brisbane – five from the back 50 – and while some of that is down to the Lions’ well-documented issues, the fact the Giants were able to expose it speaks to a growing confidence in their own ball movement.
Defensively, the last fortnight has also seen a Giant improvement (proud of that one) in stopping opponents taking it from their back 50 to forward 50:
Opponents rebound 50 to inside 50 percentage v GWS, 2023
Round 1: 31%
Round 2: 36.4%
Round 3: 12.8% (on a bog of a ground + heavy conditions. Plus it was Carlton)
Round 4: 31.6%
Round 5: 19.5%
Round 6: 17.1%
Aaron Cadman’s first two games have shown glimpses while genuinely helping their forward setup, Toby Bedford has returned from injury at VFL level and once AFL-ready will immediately form a dangerous partnership with Brent Daniels, fleshing out their attacking options at ground level.
It’s coming together bit-by-bit, even if Taylor’s injury throws a spanner in the works.
If you’ve missed any recent posts on The Shinboner, you can catch up on the last five here:
Round 6: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Gold Coast
Round 5: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Brisbane
The first month of the Alastair Clarkson era
From The Notebook, Round 4: Trends from the first month
Round 4: North Melbourne’s match analysis v Carlton
Initially I was planning on writing this proper preamble, explaining everything in detail. Then I thought, why not play this clip of Callum Mills forced to defend Tom Hawkins one-on-one instead?
It turns out when your best three key defenders (the McCartin’s + Dane Rampe) are injured – along with Lewis Melican hurting himself at VFL level – it has a crippling effect, especially while there’s a key position shortage at the other end of the field as well. Lance Franklin, Sam Reid, and Joel Amartey remain out, while Tom Hickey has only just returned to action via the VFL.
It leaves players out of position and different roles forced onto those who remain. In the big picture there are only two concerns – one out of their control and one slightly more in it:
1) How long they’re without seemingly every one of a key position height. If they can just tread water until the cavalry returns, they’ll be in a great spot to push on after it.
2) A slight concern over their contest work. Some of it is due to personnel – e.g. Mills forced to play back against Geelong instead of on-ball – but they have had a couple of sub-par performances around there. As covered in (link)last year’s Finals Dossier,(/link) the surge in the back half of 2022 had its base in becoming a strong contest side. If that drops off more often than ‘every so often’, then it becomes a concern.
As an aside though, I’d love to know the Sydney coaching staff’s thoughts on Aaron Francis and Will Gould. When Francis arrived his quotes had a focus on playing in defence…
“Hopefully I can provide some support in defence, and the coaching staff are really keen for me to realise my potential.”
…but he’s been playing forward, despite the key back shortage in recent weeks. And fantasy legend Gould has started as the sub over the last fortnight despite being, on paper, exactly what they desperately need on field down back. Perhaps he’s not fully fit after dealing with a sore foot leading into his debut and there’s simply no-one else to turn to.